Album Review: Stars – The Five Ghosts

Stars – The Five Ghosts
Vagrant: 2010

Some bands make appealing music. Perhaps they have astonishing vocals or soul crushing instrumentals. Whether it is the mainstream anthem style Springsteen or sacred alt classics like The Smiths, great music is great music. But then there are bands like Stars, whose music strives to communicate a feeling and ends up being utterly fantastic rather incidentally.

The Five Ghosts starts out smoothly. “They make me feel I’m falling down,” a lyric from the opening song “Dead Hearts” that perfectly describes Stars.  The soft vocals warmly welcome you to the state of melancholy and nostalgic introspection that prerequisites a proper Stars listening experience. Some of the songs complex harmonies and piercing vocals leave one yearning for something lost. Perfectly captured is the sense of being haunted, but not in the traditional way that leads to inquiries about whom you will call.

Rather, the ghosts here are ghosts of a collective past. The soft melody and calming contemplative vocals of “Changes” chronicle one person’s contradictory feelings about a relationship and her desire to delay changes. Other songs take utilize a quicker tempo to communicate not completely different sentiments. “The Last Song Ever Written” feels more like a letter than a song, pounding from line to line with drive and purpose. The song, and the album as a whole for that matter, punches you in the face in slow motion with just the faintest sign of a remorseful tear beginning to form, and you’re thankful for it.

Throughout the album a definite shift in musical style is present. With The Five Ghosts, Stars seems to be reintroducing some of the electro-pop stylings of their earlier work. They masterfully blend these features with the full-bodied instrumental flair they’ve developed since their early days. Which isn’t to say this is some sort of ’90’s sitcom rehash, but rather a thoughtful and more mature reutilization of skills they left unused for far too long.

Is that too much to believe? Take a listen to “The Five Ghosts” (the song), which is part of The Séance EP included with pre-orders of The Five Ghosts Deluxe Edition (the album). The quick and strong electro-pop beat, coupled with the strong vocals sung in powerful unison, leaves one with the sort of fervor more reminiscent of a revolution than a paranormal encounter.

That being said, The Five Ghosts isn’t without its shortcomings. As fun and exciting as “We Don’t Want Your Body” is, the ’80’s era synth aesthetic seems to influence the lyrics as well, leading to what can kindly be called an uncharacteristic lacking in the profundity department.

The Five Ghosts represents the culmination of everything Stars has done so far; a sort of transcendence if that isn’t too strong a word (and it isn’t). Not often can one find an album worth racking up over 1,100 plays in a fortnight. This is one of those albums. When LCD Soundsystem said This Is Happening, this is what they were talking about.

4.5 out of 5
[audio:|titles=Stars – Dead Hearts]

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